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Orthodontics is a dental specialty that prevents, diagnoses and treats dental irregularities. Orthodontics addresses problems such as overbite – upper front teeth stick out over the lower teeth; underbite – lower teeth or upper teeth are too far forward/back; crossbite – the teeth ends do not meet; open bite – space between the biting surfaces of the front and/or side teeth when the back teeth bite together; misplaced midline – center of the upper front teeth does not line up with the center of the lower front teeth; spacing – too much room between teeth or missing teeth; crowding not enough space for teeth to erupt.
The premature loss of baby teeth, retention of baby teeth, thumb – or finger-sucking, accidents and certain types of dental disease can also result in a need for orthodontic treatment. These conditions are referred to as malocclusions, and can cause difficulty in chewing and speaking, wear away enamel on healthy teeth and putting excess stress on gum tissue and surrounding bone, and increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Many different types of appliances, both fixed and removable, are used in orthodontics. These appliances function by placing gentle pressure on the teeth and jaws.
Common appliances include: braces; special fixed appliances (control thumb sucking); fixed space maintainers – used in the premature loss of baby teeth to keep the space open until the permanent tooth erupts; removable space maintainers; jaw repositioning appliances – helps train the jaw to close in a more favorable position; lip and cheek bumpers – keep the lips or cheeks away from the teeth; palatal expander (widens the arch of the upper jaw); removable retainers; headgear.
Full orthodontic treatment is a process used to straighten and align the teeth. It may also be used to correct issues with bite, such as an overbite or underbite. The process typically begins with an initial evaluation where the dentist takes x-rays and makes impressions of the teeth in order to create a personalized plan for treatment. During treatment, appliances such as braces, retainers, and headgear are used in combination with regular visits to the orthodontist in order to move the teeth into their desired positions. Depending on the severity of misalignment, full orthodontic treatment can take anywhere from nine months to two years or more; however, most people notice an improvement in their smile after only a few months of treatment. Additionally, full orthodontic treatment can help improve dental health by making it easier to clean and care for teeth correctly.
Visiting an orthodontist is important for people of all ages. It is recommended that children should visit an orthodontist by age 7, as this allows the orthodontist to identify and prevent potential dental problems. Even if there are no signs of misalignment or other issues with the teeth, it is still a good idea to have periodic visits with the orthodontist to check for any changes in alignment or development of any issues. People who have had braces in the past should continue with regular check-ups with their orthodontist to ensure their teeth remain aligned properly. Adults who have never seen an orthodontist before should make an appointment if they experience pain or discomfort when chewing or notice any changes in alignment of their teeth. To ensure healthy teeth and gums, it’s important to see an orthodontist regularly, regardless of age.